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Courtesy Descartes Labs

3 Questions

with Mark Johnson

January 25, 2017, 12:00 am

Descartes Labs, the agriculture forecasting startup, launched out of Los Alamos National Laboratory two years ago. Using satellite-imaging technology, the company boasts that it produces more accurate corn yield predictions than the federal government. CEO Mark Johnson has since raised millions in venture capital dollars and, on Monday, opened a brand new office on De Vargas Street in Santa Fe. 

I think people have this view of the Bay Area startup scene as being superficial. Does that ring a bell?
Absolutely. I spent half my life in San Francisco working for a bunch of startups. You have to get coffee with every person. You’re reading Tech Crunch everyday. People are saying, ‘Did you hear what Travis said?’ That’s the founder of Uber. I’m not going to get people to move to New Mexico if I tell them I’m making a social networking app. How do you fake the core research we’re doing here? That big thinking doesn’t happen in Silicon Valley.

How are you getting involved with the community?
The team is getting involved with coding projects, holding sessions with middle and high schools. We’re also planning on recruiting at UNM and NM Tech. People ask why aren’t there more Descartes Labs here. There’s nothing to point to in New Mexico for venture capitalists to say, ‘That was a great success.’ A few small changes here can have great effects. If we grow to 60 employees by the end of the year, we’ll be one of the biggest success stories in Santa Fe in a long time.

What’s the gender breakdown of your employees?
It’s not the ratio I’d like to see, but it’s higher than most. Five out of our 24 employees are women. Diversity is important to us, but hiring is hard. We make a concerted effort. I long for the day where I can say our ratio is better.

 

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